12 Amazing Self-Taught Prodigies

Eric Clapton

Clapton received an acoustic Hoyer guitar, made in Germany, for his thirteenth birthday, but the inexpensive steel-stringed instrument was difficult to play and he briefly lost interest. Two years later Clapton picked it up again and started playing consistently. Clapton was influenced by the blues from an early age and practiced long hours to learn the chords of blues music by playing along to the records. He preserved his practice sessions using his portable Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorder, listening to them over and over until he felt he'd got it right.

B.B. King

Born the son of sharecroppers, B.B. King was a titan of American-blues music. Though he came from incredibly humble origins, his records would go on to inspire almost every blues musician that followed him. The legacy of extreme kindness and generosity in addition to excellent body of work he’s left behind will ensure that he’s never forgotten. He was self-taught.

Jeff Healey

Began playing guitar at age 3 and by age 9, his talents were showcased on an children’s program. When he was 15, he formed his first band Blue Direction and he also started hosting a jazz & Blues radio show. Shortly after, he formed the Jeff Healey Band. After playing their initial gig, they became quite popular and were later discovered by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Albert Collins. Acting in the movie Road house with Patrick Swayze helped as well. Self-taught.

Stevie Ray Vaughan

In guitar playing circles there’s no musician more respected than Stevie Ray Vaughan. A veteran player by the time he reached his late teens, Vaughan quickly went on to become a blues-rock phenomenon. He took a music theory course in high school but flunked out, so aside from whatever small amount of information he managed to gain from that he was self-taught.

Jimi Hendrix

Hendrix began playing guitar at age 15. In 1961, he enlisted in the Army and trained as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division, but he was discharged the following year. He moved to Clarksville, Tennessee soon after and began playing gigs on the Chitlin' Circuit, earning a place in the Isley Brothers' backing band and later with Little Richard, with whom he continued to work through mid-1965. He played with Curtis Knight and the Squires before moving to England in late 1966 after being discovered by Linda Keith, who interested bassist Chas Chandler of the Animals in becoming his first manager.

David Bowie

David Bowie was one of the most versatile and talented musicians of the 20th century. Bowie learned to play piano, guitar, harmonica, bass, percussion, and even koto on his own.

Jack White

The prolific White is one of the best guitarists in rock music today with his blend of styles and sounds. He started learning from instruments his older brothers threw away. These instruments were drums, keyboards/piano and guitar.

Frank Zappa

The enigmatic Zappa was a musical prodigy who taught himself how to play most modern instruments, as well as how to compose at a very early age. He could write down entire pieces without playing a single note with great speed.

Kurt Cobain

Despite the fact that Cobain’s major talent was in songwriting, he taught himself how to play the guitar in order to be a more well-rounded musician.

Dave Grohl

The multi-talented Grohl only took a single drum lesson before realizing he could do better on his own. Two bands and several platinum records later, it looks like he was right.


Prince could be on this list twice, as he taught himself to play piano at age 7, before learning the guitar at 13 and the drums at 14! By 20, he was signed with Warner Bros.

Joe Bonamassa

When B.B. King asks you to open for him you may consider yourself an accomplished musician. For Joe Bonamassa that happened when he was 12. By that point, he had a band and had been playing guitar for 8 years. He did have a couple of lessons in classical guitar from an instructor from Julliard, but generally, he just picked all the music by ear. 15 albums and numerous collaborations later he is still one of the greatest modern blues players.